While listening to a radio program early this week, I heard a professor say she encouraged her students to bring laptops to class to take notes. The challenge for educators, she pointed out, was the potential for distraction.
“More than 50 percent are likely checking Facebook during the lecture,” she said. Then, reflecting on her experience, she quickly amended the number. “It may be three-quarters or 100 percent.”
A day later, an arresting headline caught my eye: Almost Half of Millennials Tweet While They Eat. The article highlighted a survey on the habit of mixing social networking with dining.
While allowing for individual differences, researchers have identified shared values and characteristics among the Millennial generation, whose first wave now ranges in age from 18 to 29.
In fact, whether you call them Millennials, Gen Y, Generation Next or Generation Connected, those born after 1982 are shaped not only by milestone events but by the changes brought about by the Internet and advancing technology.
Good news, bad news
According to a recent Pew Research Center study conducted by Lee Rainie of the Internet and American Life Project with Elon University’s Janna Anderson, by 2020 the hyperconnected lives of teens and young adults will produce both challenges and benefits. The study included 1,021 technology experts and futurists.
On the plus side, Millennials are described as multitaskers who know how to find the information they need quickly. Young people view the Internet almost as an external brain, allowing them to pull up the most relevant and up-to-date information as they need it.
This hyperconnected generation will also be adept at collaboration, tapping their online networks to solve problems.
On the opposite side, technology critics in the study fear that young brains are being rewired in a negative way. They point to the distractions of networked living, the emphasis on entertainment, the lack of face-to-face communication skills and low tolerance for deep thinking.
Networked living “will drive them to thirst for instant gratification, settle for quick choices and lack patience,” according to critics cited in the report.
Ready for digital literacy?
Educators have noted the need for new and creative approaches to “maximize the best and minimize the worst” effects of hyperconnectivity.
To prepare students for the realities they’ll face, they emphasize several needed competencies:
- Managing multiple information streams.
- Filtering, analyzing and synthesizing information.
- Discerning the accuracy of information.
- Communicating the result well.
These abilities will be the markers of digital literacy.
Envisioning the future
The study prompted futurist John Smart to describe how technology’s effects evolve. If people can avoid distractions, they can become “more self-actualized, productive and civic than their parents were.”
Consultant Barry Chudakov predicts a future where technology is “so seamlessly integrated into our lives that it will effectively disappear.” In this future, the challenge will be maintaining awareness. “Is this my intention, or is the tool inciting me to feel and think this way?”
Now it’s your turn. Do you view hyperconnectivity as a plus or minus for Millennials? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section below.
Many thanks to Gualtiero for the creative photo via Flickr.
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